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Observers: Islamic Jihad Misfire Triggered Hamas Escalation

Veteran Arab affairs journalist Avi Issacharoff late Monday assessed that the ongoing Israeli-Hamas hot conflict seemed set to escalate following the misfire of a rocket from Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ):

The incident, apparently born of a misfire of an Islamic Jihad rocket, prompted Hamas to embark on a series of fatal attacks on Israeli targets later Monday, leaving numerous Israeli army casualties.

The prospects of an expanded Israeli ground offensive grew more likely, with no sign of Operation Protective Edge coming to an end.

A morning of “relative calm” in the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip had been shattered by the rocket, which was aimed at Israeli civilians but fell short and struck what Gazans described as a public kindergarten. Another rocket from the same volley struck the territory’s Shifa hospital.

The Palestinians blamed the incident on Israel, and Hamas spent the day escalating attacks against Israeli targets, ultimately killing at least nine soldiers across a series of incidents.

The attacks put in motion what appears to be a strategic decision by the Israelis – announced by the country’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at a press conference also attended by Israel’s defense minister and by the IDF’s chief of staff – to target an expanded array of Hamas infrastructure:

Israel must be prepared for an extended operation inside Gaza, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu said Monday night following a mortar attack that killed four soldiers in the Eshkol region and a foiled terrorist attempt to infiltrate Kibbutz Nahal Oz via an attack tunnel.

“We will not end the operation in Gaza without neutralizing the terror tunnels,” Netanyahu said at a press conference at the IAF headquarters in Tel Aviv along with Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon and IDF Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Benny Gantz.

Yediot Aharonot‘s diplomatic correspondent Nahum Barnea traced the escalation to previous calculations made by top Hamas official Khaled Meshaal, which saw the Qatar-based figure refusing both long-term and medium-term ceasefires in favor of “a ceasefire of a few hours, so that the population in Gaza can breathe some air and stock up on necessities.”

The Israeli defense establishment has signaled that it will need another week to eliminate the Hamas attack tunnels running from Gaza to within a few hundred meters of sparsely populated and thinly defended Israeli border communities, and the activation of which was the proximate cause for the ground phase of the current conflict.

[Photo: CNN / YouTube]